3. The Mysteries of God (1)

Christmas Threads Meditations: Thread 3: The Mysteries of God (1)

Gen 3:15   I will put enmity  between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel

Mixing Metaphors:  I’m afraid I’m going to be mixing metaphors in this study, having started out talking about threads of a tapestry, I want to suggest that the next thread is the idea of the trail of breadcrumbs, because it seems to me that that is exactly what we find in the Old Testament. The idea of a trail of breadcrumbs comes from the children’s story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the two children drop breadcrumbs to form a trail to guide them back to their home. In modern website design, designers refer to a breadcrumb trail being a navigation tool to allow users to see where the user’s current location is in the whole website. In detection books, authors carefully drop breadcrumbs along the way, little clues that give the reader speculative thoughts towards who the murderer is.

The Mystery: In some senses the Old Testament is as much a mystery drama as any modern writing. When Paul spoke of the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4, Col 4:3) or the mystery of the Gospel (Eph 6:19) or this mystery more generally, (e.g. Rom 16:25, Eph 1:9, 3:3,6,9, Col 1:26,27), it was a mystery that had been there for centuries but was now being made known: the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.” (Rom 15:25,26)

The truth is that there are numerous prophetic words in the Old Testament about the coming of the Son, but they are dropped into the text like breadcrumbs to lead us ‘home’ and home is the arrival of Jesus. All of these ‘breadcrumbs’ show us that, as we saw in Thread No.1, God had a plan from before the foundation of the world and that plan involved His Son leaving heaven and being born on earth, i.e. Advent is the door into the execution of that plan. Each of these ‘breadcrumbs’ points to that truth in some way or another.

Breadcrumb No.1. Conflict: There in the Garden of Eden, following the Fall, before the couple are banished from the Garden, God addresses Satan and says, “I will put enmity  between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15) or, as the Message paraphrase puts it, “I’m declaring war between you and the Woman, between your offspring and hers.” This is strange talk. Who is the woman? Is it Eve, all women, or Mary, the mother of Jesus? Perhaps it is wise not to be too specific but certainly the protective heart of every woman is to desire the best for her child and to protect it from harm. In this sense every woman would be against Satan’s intents to harm. His offspring would be everyone who surrenders to his leadership (every unbeliever according to 1 Jn 5:19).

But her offspring? Surely not every human who follows, surely it must be one specific one? There is coming one who will war against Satan, crushing his ability over humans, but in the process will himself be harmed? Who else can this be (we say with the insight of hindsight) but Jesus? The Son of God will leave heaven, come to earth, battle with Satan, and triumph over him through the Cross. And there it is in the third chapter of the Bible, this clue for the avid reader of detective fiction, the follower of breadcrumbs, the seeker of the mysteries found throughout the Old Testament.  But before we pray, just one final thought here about this verse. Even in declaring this, how do you think the Father felt? He is saying, ‘My Son will come to the earth to wage warfare against you, Satan, and he will disarm (Col 2:15) you, but in the process, I know he will have to die, to give up that wonderful life he will have on earth that will bless thousands, in order that he might save millions.’   As necessary as it was, how would you feel as a father, facing the fact that that had to happen?

Prayer Time: Thanks & Request: “Father, thank you that you have laid out these ‘breadcrumbs’ throughout the Old Testament to show us the way to Advent and on to the Cross. Lord, please open our eyes to the wonder of this, your heart that just kept overflowing from time to time so that these clues were dropped, all of which pointed to your master plan. Thank you for the plan on your heart from before the foundation of the world to save us, that was fulfilled in these events, for Advent, for the Nativity, Amen.”

2. The Heart of God

Christmas Threads Meditations: Thread 2: The Heart of God

Prov 8:30,31  I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

(Additional Reading: Prov 8:22-31)

Catching God’s heart: I guess many of us would agree with those famous words from Jn 3: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him,” (Jn3:16,17) but I wonder if familiarity has dulled our understanding of these two verses. It was God’s love that sent His Son into this world. We saw in our first study that the Father sent the Son and we see it again in these two verses, but let me ask you a question that perhaps you’ve never been asked before: how do you think the Son felt about that? In the Godhead the authority is with the Father who instructs the Son and the Spirit, but this instruction is going to have some terrible implications within it  So let’s limit the question a bit to, what do you think Jesus felt about this instruction in respect of us?

God has Feelings?  I take us down this path because I think sometimes we lose all the emotion from the Advent story for I have a feeling that, for many, the emotion associated most with God would be anger, but I don’t believe that is the truth. Yes, God does get angry sometimes but is that all we find in the Godhead? I find our starter verses from Proverbs amazing. You really need to read verses 22 to 31 of Proverbs 8 to catch the full import of it. Technically it is ‘wisdom personified’ speaking but when you consider the Godhead, it has to be the Son who the creeds tell us was ‘begotten of the Father’ (and begotten simply means ‘comes out of’) who, from verse 27 on indicates that he was there alongside the Father creating the world.

It’s a lovely picture which corresponds perfectly to Jn 1:3 and Heb 1:2 and Col 1:16. But see what the Son says: “I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence.” (v.30) Delight, joy, pleasure, describe how the Son felt working alongside the Father. But then, even more wonderfully, “rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (v.31)  The son was blessed by the world they were bringing into being – and blessed by us human beings! Yes, he had this same joy and pleasure in us that he had in the world and in his Father. That is incredible! That’s how it was before the Fall.

Yes but we fell!  Yes, I can hear the negative put-down in this truth, but how do you think God felt about the Fall? Angry, yes, but anything else? Well a while later, when things start going seriously wrong in the world we read, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Gen 6:6) The Message paraphrase puts it, God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.”  This is one of those times when God appears, not only as the One who stands outside time and sees everything from beginning to end, but also as the One who is there in time experiencing it as if for the first time. If it had been us, we might have said, “Oh why did I ever create this world when I see what a mess it gets into?” and our hearts would be broken.

Think Again: We often come across ‘the joy of the Lord’ in Scripture but to see more of God’s emotions we simply need to watch Jesus outside Lazarus’s tomb: When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.  Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (Jn 11:33-36) The original Greek seems to suggest that in Jesus’ weeping there was also a feeling of anger as well as anguish, anger for the effect of sin, both in bringing about Lazarus’s death and the impact it had on the family, as well as what he no doubt felt for Lazarus himself. God who is troubled, God who anguishes – over us! This is the love of Jn 3:16 that instinctively enabled the Godhead to plan Advent even before they uttered a word to create the world.

Time to Pray – Thanks: “Lord, I catch but a bit of what your word seems to reveal about how you feel about us.  Father, thank you that you love us, and sent Jesus to die for us. Thank you that it is your love that energizes you to plan all of this to save us. Thank you so much. Amen.”

Prayer Time – Requests: “Lord, please forgive us that so often we never bother to try to catch your heart or understand how you feel. Lord, please open my heart, fill my heart with the truth, touch my heart with the wonder of the emotions you feel that are the guiding and motivating force behind all the Nativity accounts. Please help me see it this year like I’ve never seen it before. Amen.”

1. The Throne Room of God

Christmas Threads Meditations: Thread 1: The Throne Room of God

1 Pet 1:20  He was chosen before the creation of the world

Need of a backdrop: One of our problems, I believe, is that as Christmas comes around each year, we tend to focus on just the main events and key players involved in Israel just two thousand years ago, and that’s it. Unfortunately that fails to see the biblical backdrop that puts incredible meaning to what took place. Last year I noted that the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols held every year in King’s College Cambridge, had as their opening reading Genesis 3:8-19. I understand that the purpose was to start pondering on the reason for Advent going right back to the Fall, but I would like us to go back beyond that because unless we do we may fall into the error of believing that Advent was God’s backup plan after things had gone wrong and nothing could be further from the truth.

The Plan before Time: Our verse above, “He was chosen before the creation of the world,” is one of seven references in the New Testament to the fact that everything about Jesus was formulated by the Godhead before the Creation of the world, i.e. Jesus was loved by the Father ‘back then’ (Jn 17:24), Jesus was chosen to bring our salvation ‘back then’ (1 Pet 1:20), we were chosen because He saw ‘back then’ we would be responders today (Eph 1:4), our names were written in a book of life ‘back then’ (Rev 17:8), Jesus’ death on the cross was decreed ‘back then’ (Rev 13:8), it was agreed that this is how God’s grace would be conveyed to us ‘back then’ (2 Tim 1:9), and the end result for us would be eternal life, decreed ‘back then’ (Tit 1:2).

Do you catch the wonder of this, that the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – planned Advent even before they created the world and everything we know, there in the throne room of God? It was not a mistake; it was not a second fall-back plan; it was an integral part of God’s overall plan for this world – which had a beginning and has a planned end. In the past I have tried to envisage a conversation between the three members of the Godhead as they considered the possibilities of what would happen if they created a world of human beings with free will. As God knows everything and is all-wise, it is probable that such a conversation never happened, it was just a split second (outside time!!!) awareness that this HAD to happen, this was the only way for it to happen. The more you think into it, the more you realize this is true, it had to happen this way. I hope we can see that in what follows.

Prayer Time – Thanks: Time to pray, prayers of thanks: “Lord God, you who are sovereign Lord of all things, Creator of heaven earth, the all-knowing one, the all-wise one, thank you that you knew exactly what you were doing when you designed the world and us, and gave us free will, thank you that you understood the consequences and knew what had to be done, and when. Amen.”

Prayer Time – Requests:  Wise men know their limitations. “Lord Jesus, you have shown us that you are for us and that you understand our limitations. Lord, please deliver us from simply reading words, please impact our hearts with the wonder of the reality we have just been considering. Lord, please help us see and remember the ‘big picture’ this Christmas, that it isn’t just about a few limited events spread over a year, but this is in reality part of your big plan that began back before time and will only ‘finish’ after time and in eternity. Amen.”

Introduction to Christmas Threads

Christmas Threads Meditations: Introduction to Christmas Threads

Gal 4:4  when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman

Something More? Christmas approaches – again! I must confess that I have a ‘thing’ about Christmas and for that reason, (apart from trying to fight back the glitz and let the real light shine through) I pause at this time of year and pray, “Lord, please allow me to see afresh the wonder of what you have done.”  As I have been praying I have had a sense of something different. The idea of threads that make up a tapestry came to mind. Can we together push back the glitz and see afresh the wonder of the thing Matthew and Luke bring to us in their early chapters?

About Time: So by way of introduction, for meditation purposes, may I snatch out of context the apostle Paul’s words in Galatians, “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman,” because they seem to summarize or encapsulate just what this is all about. The Message version starts it, “when the time arrived that was set by God the Father.” Jesus came at a time that was set by God, i.e.  God had an agenda and so Jesus’ coming was not some random, haphazard event that just happened to pop up in history two thousand years ago but was a preplanned mega-event on the divine calendar.

The NIV’s, “when the set time had fully come,” has three interesting words. First note, the ‘set time’, suggesting the established or exact or precise time, a fully considered or worked out time. Again, taking my comment above about God’s ‘agenda’, I believe there is a real sense in the Old Testament (and New) that God had specific things He wanted to happen before He ‘sent’ His Son. The other word, ‘fully’, suggests completion or worked through to a designed end. Everything about this screams of careful planning on God’s part.

In the latter half of that verse note three words: “God sent his Son, born of a woman.”  The thee key and arguably most significant players in the Nativity story are God, His Son, and the young woman Mary. How we take some of these things for granted! The truth is that a figure from elsewhere could just be dropped into the present. He needn’t have gone through the trauma of baby and childhood and the accompanying threats.  Yet that is how God chose to enter the world we know, and we’ll return to this later because, again, I think there are things here we take for granted.

I referred earlier to the Nativity as ‘a preplanned mega-event on the divine calendar’ so as we run up to this ‘mega-event’ this year, would you like to embark on a journey with me, a journey made up of a number of threads that go to make an incredible tapestry, hopefully to the glory of God.

Prayer Time – Thanking: Our starting point in prayer must be thanks: “Lord Jesus thank you that you came to this earth in human form. Father, thank you that you sent Jesus at a very precise time to reveal you to us and to die for us. Thank you that you chose to achieve this using a human body, ‘born of a woman’; you drew that close to our human experience in your desire to win our hearts. Thank you so much. Amen.”

Prayer Time – Asking: But there always need to be requests, for the wise realize they always need God’s help, so can we pray together, “Lord as we come to your word to reflect again on the wonder of this time that we call Christmas,  may we snatch some words from the psalmist and ask of you, ‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things’, (Psa 119:19) not so much from your law as from the testimony of your word. Deliver us from the familiarity with this story and enable us to catch again the wonder of it, that our hearts may truly be moved to worship. Amen!”